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The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations    by Robert Bly order for
Winged Energy of Delight
by Robert Bly
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have enjoyed translations of poets from other countries, cultures, and times for many years - from Calcutta's Rabindranath Tagore to Russia's Yevgeny Yevtushenko. A new volume is always a joy, so I opened The Winged Energy of Delight with enthusiasm, and found many poets new to me amongst the twenty-two translated here, as well as familiar names like Horace, Hafez, Neruda and Rilke.

The title comes from Rainer Maria Rilke's poem 'Just As the Winged Energy of Delight', in which the great poet says 'inside human beings is where God learns.' Robert Bly introduces each of the poets translated here. He tells us that the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer (from the lovely Stockholm Archipelago) is one of 'silence and depths'. It communicates feelings clearly. Speaking of playing Haydn 'After a black day', Tranströmer says 'The music is a pane of glass standing on a slope; / rocks are flying, rocks are rolling. / The rocks fall straight through the house / but every pane of glass is still whole.'

Bly introduces us to Mirabai, who lived (and rebelled) in 1500s Rajasthan, and cried 'I have felt the swaying of the elephant's shoulders; and now you want me to climb on a jackass? Try to be serious.' I enjoyed 1400s Indian Kabir's spiritual verses - 'The Clay Jug' and 'Are You Looking for Me?' ... 'You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals: / not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.'

Here's Spaniard Antonio Machado in the early 1900s, 'Mankind owns four things / that are no good at sea: / rudder, anchor, oars, / and the fear of going down.' Other famous Spaniards are included - Juan Ramón Jiménez, Pablo Neruda, and Miguel Hernandez, who died in a Franco prison, said 'Life is a lot of hard gulps, / but death is only one.' There's French poet (and Resistance fighter) Francis Ponge, and Austrian Georg Trakl. Japanese Basho wrote this haiku: 'The temple bell stops - / but the sound keeps coming / out of the flowers.'

I especially appreciated the introduction to Norway's Olav H. Hauge (need to find more of his work). Here is one of his poems, 'Don't come to me with the entire truth. / Don't bring the ocean if I feel thirsty, / nor heaven if I ask for light; / but bring a hint, some dew, a particle, / as birds carry only drops away from water, / and the wind a grain of salt.' And there are many more poets, all famous in their own cultures, and known less well than they should be outside them.

It's an impressive collection, illuminated by Robert Bly's translations, his summaries of the poets' lives and times, and his own lyrical impressions of their works. In his introduction, Bly tells us that the 'most important gift we receive when translating is to see genius ... shine straight through into the world.' The Winged Energy of Delight shines brightly.

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